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There is a general consensus among many movie fans, as well as a lot of film critics, that the best modern action movie franchise is the Mission: Impossible series. Tom Cruise has taken action to the next level by not only performing all his own stunts, but performing some practical stunts on screen like we've never seen before.
I would never claim that what Tom Cruise has accomplished in the Mission: Impossible franchise isn't amazing. It absolutely is. However, while Tom Cruise climbing the world's tallest building is phenomenal on its own, as a franchise, I actually find the John Wick movies to be far superior in many ways. Here are some reasons why.
John Wick Is More Human
It's true that, for the most part, both John Wick and Ethan Hunt are essentially superheroes. They are men of incredible talent and skill who are successful to a ludicrous degree in everything they do. However, I find John Wick to simply be a much more relatable character.
When we first meet Mr. Wick, he's not busy murdering a room full of assassins. He's in his house, alone, mourning. The first thing that we learn about Wick is his weakness and vulnerability This is important, because for the rest of the movie he is running around murdering rooms full of assassins, but now we can better relate to him.
By contrast, Ethan Hunt is a near perfect superspy who free climbs dangerous mountains alone for fun in his free time. The franchise has done a better job of humanizing him in more recent films, but it's been working backwards. It made him the invincible hero first and that's just not as relatable.
It Has Superior World-Building
The first thing that jumped out at me about the John Wick franchise was the excellent way it created the world in which Wick and the other characters lived. The idea that this whole world of professional killers is happening all around us in plain sight is incredibly entertaining. There's a serious lack of expository dialogue as well. Instead, the film just drops you into the world and lets you understand how it works as you go along.
Nobody tells us where the Continental hotel comes from or where its traditions originated. It's just there; one assumes it always has been. Because the characters can navigate this world with ease, it comes across as normal to us and we learn what we need to know by watching what happens.
We don't even need the explanation of who John Wick is that the first movie gives us. Everything we need to know about the level of badass we're talking about here is expressed in the dialogue between two other characters. The reaction spells it all out.
The Mission: Impossible franchise isn't without its own world-building, specifically as it pertains to the IMF itself, but for the most part the IMF just feels like any spy agency in the real world. I enjoy the more fantastic elements of John Wick.
There's A Cohesive Story
One of the things that set the Mission: Impossible movies apart was the way that each installment was handled by a new director. This let each one take the property in a different direction and use it to try and do something different. This was a great idea and it gave us a lot of different flavors of Mission: Impossible to enjoy, and also a John Woo movie.
Unfortunately, one negative side effect was that each movie feels so different that they barely feel like they're part of the same franchise. Only in the last couple films have we seen real sequels that feel like they belong together, and that's because Christopher McQuarrie has been overseeing things.
By comparison, the John Wick films are so tightly woven together, the second film follows almost immediately after the first and we know the same will be true of John Wick: Chapter 3 - Parabellum. The entire trilogy takes place over a matter of days. Each event that happens follows directly on the events that came before. The events of Chapter 2 happen because of what happened in the first movie. Parabellum's plot is a consequence of Chapter 2. The reason that the following installments are called chapters is because they really are just pieces of a longer narrative.
More Visceral Action
Action scenes are largely a matter of taste and the type of action that one person loves might not work for another, but personally, I'm a fan of action that is simple and personal. Give me a good sword fight or fist fight, when well shot and choreographed, and I'm in heaven.
Mission: Impossible certainly isn't without this sort of action. The bathroom fight scene in Mission: Impossible - Fallout is a thing of beauty and my favorite part of that film. However, the rest of the action in that movie involves Tom Cruise doing HALO jumps and flying helicopters. They're big, amazing moments, but I find them to be so big that the character of the moments gets lost.
John Wick, by comparison is almost nothing but these close quarters hand-to-hand fights and gun battles. Everything feels more intimate, and therefore, more tense. When John Wick gets thrown off the balcony of the dance club you don't just see him hit the ground with a thud, you feel that impact.
John Wick isn't about one massive set piece stunt, it's about a collection of stylish, perfectly choreographed action sequences, where each one ever so slightly out does the one that came before building to an epic finale.
It's Got Style For Days
While the action of John Wick may feel more real, the rest of the world, to be sure, does not. The world of assassins that exists around our own is somewhat fantastical, that's true, but that's what makes it so much fun.
It exists out of time, with operators using an old fashioned switchboard and typing out contracts on vintage typewriters. Contracts are sent out on the modern cell phone network, but they come from a computer that looks like it came out of a silicon valley garage in the 1970s. The timeless element adds so much to the overall feel of the story.
The fight scenes are an extension of this style. Everything in them is beautifully choreographed. It's like watching a big song and dance number in a very bloody musical. Watching all the players perform their steps to perfection is a joy to watch.
I still love the Mission: Impossible franchise. I look forward to the two additional films that are coming from Tom Cruise and Christopher McQuarrie, and I can't wait to see what they have in store for us next. There's no question we'll see some epic stunts. However, outside of those epic stunts, I'm just not sure there's going to be enough in the story to keep me excited when the big stunt is over.
Instead I'm much more excited to see John Wick: Chapter 3 - Parabellum, and if there are even more chapters in John Wick's story left to tell, I'll be even more excited for those. I find John Wick to be a more compelling character, who also is really good at killing lots of people in very pretty ways.
Which Modern Action Franchise Do You Prefer?